I Spit on Your Grave (1978): the hell?
In my defense, it was my last day of the festival – and it had been a really outstanding day, movie-wise - and by the end of the night, I was pretty exhausted. I Spit on Your Grave was screening at midnight and having heard Shannon’s account of the film and how brutal the violence was, I just didn’t think I could stomach it. After subsisting on a steady diet of horror films for six days straight – and I shall add here that the programming was a touch on the rape-y side, not a day passed where I didn’t watch someone get sexually assaulted on film – I decided to give it a miss.
When I arrived back to my home in KC, there was a red envelope from Netflix waiting for me. I had put I Spit on Your Grave (the 1978 original, directed by Meir Zarchi) in my queue with every intention of watching it before leaving for Austin – fully anticipating that I would watch the re-make as well – and there it was…daring me. I had actually never seen it before and I felt a powerful obligation to watch it, even if I was apprehensive and a little scared. It took some convincing, but I co-erced my husband into seeing it with me ( Me: ‘What could be more fun than watching a rape/revenge exploitation classic on our date night?….aAnd we can fold laundry at the same time….’, Mr. Pancake: ‘Um…’) and so we settled in for our cinematic treat.
I need to preface some things before I continue. I do watch a lot of sick, twisted, gory, scary things on purpose – and I enjoy it – but I consider myself a compassionate person. I have a harder time watching human-on-human violence (as opposed to monster/demon/Hell Beast/undead/unstoppable-boogey-man/creature-on-human violence) and rape is a particularly difficult subject because it is so vile and it does happen – with alarming frequency. I don’t want my take on a film that depicts rape to mislead anyone into thinking that I am making light of a serious, heinous act of violence. However…
I Spit on Your Grave made me laugh. Hard. I have read here and there that writer/director Meir Zarchi intended his film to be kind of a feminist piece (his original title was Day of the Woman) about justifiable revenge and that he was bothered by accusations of glorifying violence against women. Whatever his intentions were, I seriously doubt that “Hilarious!” was among them. At this point you may be scratching your head and questioning my sense of humor – and quite possibly my moral fiber – rightfully asking the question, ‘what could possibly be funny about a film in which a woman is brutally and repeatedly raped?’ and my unfortunate answer is, the rape scenes.
The tone of comedy is set early on, when protagonist Jennifer Hills (Camille Keaton) is fleeing through the woods to escape her would-be attackers. She is naked, dirty and screaming in terror….and then she dashes past a person – possibly a woman, definitely a film-crew member - holding a boom mic and what appears to be a white coffee mug. It was the coffee cup what got me. Something about the implied nonchalance of sipping tea or coffee – casually observing this horrible thing that is taking place as if it were just part of one’s morning routine – just cracked me up. From here on, things get ugly and uncomfortable, though it must be said that it was the actual “technique” of the rapists that brought the house down.
One man, the No-Shirt-Suspenders Rapist, only moves his body from the waist up – violently winging his torso from side to side, kind of like he is trapped in cement from foot to groin. Another fellow, the Gilligan-be-costumed, Not-At-All-PC-Mentally-Challenged Rapist, simply lies on top of the victim, completely still – for an ETERNITY. (Observing this oddity, I had to ask my husband, ‘Is he supposed to be…is a rape happening now…or….?’, for some reason, having to ask made it that much funnier). And it wasn’t just me, at one point in the film, it actually looked like Camille Keaton was struggling to stifle her laughs – and it’s no wonder, given what she was working with - several close-up shots of the contorted Rape Faces are nothing short of comedy gold.
No one is more surprised by my reaction to this film than I am, BELIEVE. I went into this experience expecting to be terrified and shaken, it never crossed my mind for a second that I would be stricken by giggle fits. I think it’s a possibility that my exposure to horrifically realistic-looking acts of violence in movies has played a role in my unusual response to what is generally regarded as one of the more contraversial films ever made. The the most likely explanation is also the simplest one, that the people in this movie look silly – and I clearly lack the emotional maturity to not find that hilarious.